Today’s digital-first world is changing the CIO role to be a main driver of digital transformation and someone who empowers sales growth and customer loyalty.
The global pandemic has changed how businesses operate, so it’s no surprise that job roles are shifting focus. And, that’s certainly true for the chief information officer.
In today’s digital-first world, it’s imperative that the CIO moves from a support role to someone within the organization who is a main driver of digital transformation as well as one who empowers sales growth and customer loyalty. As CEOs, it’s not just about asking what your IT team can do to save costs. Rather, it’s time to lean into your digital teams and discover how technology can be used to grow revenue. Simply put, the CIO should be part of the customer experience conversation — and from early on.
I recently connected with Ashwin Ballal, EVP and CIO at Medallia, to talk about how the role is changing and how that evolution is driving digital transformation for companies when it comes to their employees and operations.
Wow, what a year! It would be kind to say that people’s work experiences have been disrupted. How have your priorities as a CIO changed as a result of the work-from-anywhere workforce?
Wow is an understatement! 2020 was such an incredible year for so many facets of our lives, and work has changed so dramatically. The way we work has been evolving for a while now, but the pandemic really accelerated the transition. It’s not that we were anticipating a pandemic, but we were anticipating the company would grow in ways that the pandemic led us to. In normal circumstances, scaling would have been more conventional — but COVID-19 pushed us to take a more asymmetric approach.
For example, even from a support standpoint, we were early to get a bot to do the first line of defense that didn’t require headcount to be added like a conventional help desk would. The ability to get feedback on every kind of experience that our employees faced helped us to prioritize what was top of mind for employees and then make adjustments as needed.
Digital disruption has forced transformation to happen almost overnight. How do you ensure your team is aligned with today’s business needs?
Most progressive, forward-leaning organizations are structured so that they have very close alignment with business partners. There should be an IT business partner working with sales operations, marketing, product or engineering, to name a few. And, we reach out for feedback, not only from a transactional standpoint but via projects. Once you ask, business partners not only give you feedback on the project itself but also what the roadmap should look like. What would they like IT to work on next? That helps us prioritize where we need to go.
Every company today is becoming a technology company, and every company today is a digital company.
Assuming leadership’s satisfaction is one way to gauge success, what other core competencies define a successful IT organization right now?
Now, top of mind for the CIO is how do you work together with the different lines of business to enable the company in ways that we never did before? For one, if you look at the priorities of a CIO, cost constraints are always going to be there. The pandemic has cast new light on shadow IT — those projects that are managed outside of the IT department, and often without their knowledge. Previously, you could get away with many of these things. Now, we pause and ask: Is this the right thing for us to do?
In order to fund digital transformation, the money needs to come from somewhere. You have to look at your own application, infrastructure, rationalization and say it’s not only for efficiency of the business, but how do I digitally transform the organization and also keep it secure? And at the same time, how do I provide a great employee experience?
What are some of the ways you are able to communicate value to leadership as well as business stakeholders?
If there is a silver lining as part of the pandemic, it’s that IT played an incredible role transitioning to be at the front line for employees. For some forward-looking companies, the transition had been more or less seamless. As a result, CIOs and the IT organization have developed some goodwill. The relationship between the CIO and the CEO has drawn closer, along with the rest of the C-suite. This has been an opportunity that most CIOs had designed for, and now it’s here. And, how do you now take advantage of the situation that we are in to drive not just the cost implications but also more of the business value, revenue acceleration and brand awareness? That’s what forward-thinking CIOs are doing now, being more involved in the conversation.
The CIO role has already changed so much due to rapid digital transformation. How do you see the role of IT leadership continuing to change?
Historically, IT organizations were viewed as a support organization. But every company today is becoming a technology company, and every company today is a digital company. So, who better than IT to enable digital transformation, both internally and externally? And, if you believe that, the role of the CIO has significantly changed as a result. The CIO, being the technologist, should lead these transformations and will keep doing so in the future as business conditions continue to change. By opening a direct listening feedback channel for all of our business stakeholders, we are empowered to be ahead of these future challenges and can more adequately meet their needs.